I have an oil painting in my bedroom. It sums up my feelings about the pleasure of the table.
This painting, which I paid far too much for a long time ago but now don’t even remember how much it cost, combines my two favorite things: Pork and wine. Taken together or separately. In fact, I’m sitting here now having a glass of Pinot Noir as I am about to discuss pork.
There’s a BBQ joint outside Nashville called Carl’s Perfect Pig and I think that just says it all nicely. The pig is perfect. No other animal yields so many completely different tasting meats. You have bacon, of course, which to me tastes better than caviar. You have ham, country or city depending on how you cure it. You have ribs. I don’t need to say anything more about that. You have pork butt or picnic shoulder, which is what you make real BBQ from. And you have the loin and tenderloin, what some people call “the other white meat.”
A lot of people say pigs are really smart, but I don’t want to know about that. It kind of ruins the moment.
I believe my love affair with pork began at an early age when my father fried bacon for Louise and me. He was the perfect bacon fryer. He took it slow so that the bacon browned nicely in its own fat but didn’t curl up. It is one of the few things I vividly remember watching him do. He had a heart attack when I was four years old and never ate bacon again. But he would fry it up for his girls. That’s true love.
I learned to truly love country ham while Mark and I were living in Reno because we couldn’t get it there. I’d ask anyone traveling East to pick some up at the grocery store. They were flummoxed when I told them not to look in the refrigerated meat case. It would be at room temperature packaged in heavy plastic. They thought that was unsanitary. Westerners don’t really have a good bead on country ham.
Tonight we are going to zero in on pork loin, which should not be confused with pork tenderloin. Pork loin is the full cut of meat along the back of the pig. Pork tenderloin is just the meat closest to the spine. For now, let’s just talk about pork loin. A lot of people roast it whole and that’s fine. But I like to butterfly and stuff it.
Butterflying pork loin is easy. You basically make two cuts and lay it out flat. Here’s a nifty demonstration I found on the web. Once you stuff the pork loin, you just roll it up, tie it and roast it fat side up so the fat gets nice and crispy and you want to just eat that and be done with it.
People will think you worked slavishly at this for hours upon hours. As we say in the South, it makes a pretty presentation.
1 pork loin, about two pounds
1 box pork stuffing mix
1 8-ounce container sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup Madeira
Salt and pepper
Butterfly the pork so that it lays flat on the cutting board, fat side down. Season with salt and pepper.
Prepare the stuffing according to package directions. In a food processor, process the mushrooms, shallots and garlic until minced. Saute in the butter until browned. Deglaze the pan with the Madeira. Mix the mushrooms with half the stuffing mix (reserving the rest for another use). Chill.
Spread the cooled mushroom mixture on the pork, leaving about a half inch at the edges. Roll the pork up. Tie with kitchen twine. Salt and pepper the outside of the pork roll. Roast on a rack at 350 degrees until the internal temperature of the pork is 140 degrees.
Some of the stuffing will fall out during the roasting process and will be browned and yummy. Make sure you eat it while nobody’s looking.